Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing/News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in

Discussion positively abounds lately about the global carbon emissions market. There are two memes/arguments involved here: first, a global market means a global price. The Coase theorem writ very large indeed. Secondly, although UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is on board (remember him? He’s the new UN boss. Give him time to become famous, he only just started), it is also true that less than a dozen countries pump out 90% of carbon emissions.

This is without subjectivity or elitism: if the 10 richest countries are the ones poisoning the planet, only a solution that pulls us all together will work, long-term. And that probably means a market over some hippy initiative to help the poor (Clare Short tried this as well, with mixed results). The Australian Stock Exchange is on board, already laying the groundwork for a carbon futures market in 2012 – the proposed date for initialisation of the global trading market. Domestically, the Prime Minister (who, surely, can’t still be in office in 2012?) has said Australia will have its own trading market by 2012 at the latest.

With whom, I wonder, will we trade? Probably Tasmania. Who knows. At least Western Australia appears to be engaged already, and planning to have emissions to sell, rather than buy.

As it stands, we already buy into carbon sinks, probably more than most (and as long as nobody else got involved it might have worked, just maybe).

The problem remains, though, as ever. As GW Bush proved in his first few weeks in office, giving a shit about international treaties comes and goes. How does the US prosecute China if it breaks the rules and, say, over-produces greenhouse gases? Do we fine them? Suspend them from the market? What if the market itself simply becomes a system whereby rich countries buy our consciences and our toxic lifestyles at the expense of 3rd world development (and the future inhabitability of our poor planet)? No reason why not – if it’s going to be established to work for the rich countries, it will probably work for the rich countries.

Moreover, if or when such a market proves quite unworkable for the rich countries, and/or poisonous for the poor countries, what the odds of this clock being turned back?

Do I have a better plan? No, no I don’t. I actually work with the assumption that none of this will count for all that much, because the simple physics of carbon emissions are that we pump them out by burning up our fossilised history at a million years an hour. I’m not as pessimistic as, say, Jim Kunstler, but I do think, by and large, that we’re going to run out of stuff to burn to run our cars. We will grind nearer (at least) to a halt, but at least our emissions will, too.

Which is kind of a shame, actually, because the world will need Economists about as much as it needs million-BTU air conditioners, Happy Meal toys and off-Broadway musicals. I plan on learning how to farm and shoot.


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